'Shard's unforgettable - and sold out - views'

Chris Parsons
·News Editor

Yahoo! News UK takes a trip up the 1,015ft tower to see what visitors can expect for their £25.

Looming large over the capital's skyline, the unmistakable shape of the Shard has been a familiar London landmark for almost two years.

Next month, 12 years after its design was sketched on the back of a restaurant menu, the tallest building in Europe will open to the public.

Already the opening day for the attraction - February 1 - is sold out, as is the second day, February 2.

Visitors will get the chance to scale 72 floors of the 1,015ft skyscraper, before marveling at the panoramic views of London below.

It's billed as 'a new symbol for the city' where you can see for 40 miles on a clear day, but do the lofty heights do justice to the hype surrounding the £500m attraction?

From the moment visitors step through the glass doors at ground level of the Shard, it's clear its makers want you to experience more than just 'the tallest building in Europe'.

Next to the sleek and spacious entrance hall, tourists are greeted by pictures of famous Londoners in bizarre computer-enhanced situations.

Think Kate Moss marrying Henry VIII, Richard Branson manning a hot dog stand, and Margaret Thatcher and Karl Marx on a tandem bike ride.

It's one of several imaginative touches designed to help visitors 'learn about London in a different way', rather than just take in the spectacular view.

Those heading straight for the upper echelons will see various other visual aids before they reach the summit.

A painted floor on level 33 maps out London and describes the highlights of each suburb, before challenging you to 'test your knowledge of London'.

The floors above this level will feature a hotel, spa, and private residences.

After an 18-second lift ride up 35 floors, you arrive on level 68, where the view is tantalisingly obscured by clouds drawn onto the glass.

The designs describe the types of clouds you can expect to see from the top, as well as heightening the anticipation for the main event.

Climb a small flight of stairs, and you finally arrive on the level 69 viewing gallery - and the sight that greets you is undeniably breathtaking.

Gazing downward, giant landmarks like the Gherkin, Monument and Tower Bridge appear as stumpy childrens' toys.

Getting a bird's eye view as tiny trains snake away from London Bridge station directly beneath you is also an unforgettable moment.

On a crystal clear day it is claimed you can see to France from this platform.

Unfortunately, drizzle and mist on the day I visit mean anything beyond the London Eye is obscured by fog.

Canary Wharf and the Olympic Stadium also remain disappointingly out of view.

Visitors on sunnier days will have no such misfortune, and can look forward to stunning vistas across the entire south-east.

Those looking for London's landmarks are given a helping hand with interactive 'Tell:scopes' - state of the art digital telescopes which present factoids for the various buildings in users' line of vision.

While admiring the view, I learn that the Gherkin is London's most energy-efficient building, and that the Monument is the tallest isolated stone column in the world.

The digital telescopes were originally going to cost extra to use (they each have a credit card slot), but bosses decided against charging extra on top of what is already a hefty entrance price.

Kevin Murphy, from Event Communications who helped develop the Shard as an 'attraction', says they wanted to give visitors 'impact' when they arrive at the Shard, and not just from the vertigo-inducing views.

He told Yahoo!: "This is the Eiffel Tower of London. When you go to the top of the Eiffel Tower though, what else do you get apart from the view?

"If you have an attraction in a tall building you can get people up there, show them the view, and take them down again.

"We wanted to provide a premium attraction with lots more information.

"It was very important that we gave visitors lots of impact in addition to the view, with video and audio."

If you want the authentic Shard experience however, climb up another three levels.

Floor 72 is the highest habitable level of the Shard, at a stomach-turning 244m (800ft) above ground.

It's on this floor - exposed to the elements - that your heart will skip a beat as you gaze across the capital.

The temperature drops several degrees, the wind swirls around you and street noise is clearly audible below.

Rather than the glass walls and roof of the floors below, up on 72 the Shard's highest glass panels jut into the open air.

There is a fair amount of scaffolding still in place around the top floors of the building, but bosses insist the Shard will be shiny and complete by the time the first guests stream in on February 1.

The 'experience', as it is called, is certainly memorable - but many tourists will baulk at the £30 pay-on-the-day entrance fee.

Tickets in advance will set you back £24.95, while a child ticket costs £18.95 if booked ahead.

Kevin Murphy says the price should be taken relatively to other London landmarks.

He said: "You have to compare it with what you get at other attractions around London.

"If you go to the London Dungeons you will pay a similar amount, but we believe you get a better experience here.

"That's not to say the Dungeons aren't a great attraction - they are quite different experiences - but there is nothing quite like the Shard in London."

There's no denying the Shard is a tourist trip which will hit you in the pocket, but for seeing London (and beyond) like never before, there isn't anything else like it.